I call Deputy Eamon Ryan to announce the Order of Business for the week and to make proposals regarding the arrangements for the taking of that business.
Order of Business
This refers to business agreed last Thursday. The Business Committee will convene again at 4 p.m. today.
Today’s business shall be No. 9, motion re Parliamentary Questions rota change, without debate; No. 10, motion re report of services by the Defence Forces with the United Nations in 2015, referral to committee, without debate; No. 16, National Famine Commemoration Day Bill 2017 - Second Stage; and No. 17, Disability (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2016 - Second Stage resumed. Private Members’ Business shall be No. 90, motion re North-South interconnector, selected by Fianna Fáil.
Wednesday’s business shall be No. 18, statements on the recent US executive order on immigration; No. 19, Communications Regulation (Postal Services) (Amendment) Bill 2016 - Order for Report, Report and Final Stages; No. 1, Knowledge Development Box (Certification of Inventions) Bill 2016 [Seanad] - Second Stage; and No. 17, Disability (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2016 - Second Stage resumed. Private Members’ Business shall be No. 91, motion re no confidence in the Government selected by Sinn Féin.
Thursday’s business shall be motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of draft Commission of Investigation (Certain matters relating to two disclosures made by members of An Garda Síochána under the Protected Disclosures Act 2014) Order 2017; No. 1, Knowledge Development Box (Certification of Inventions) Bill 2016 [Seanad] - Second Stage; No. 17, Disability (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2016 - Second Stage, resumed; and No. 11, report on the Rising Costs of Motor Insurance and the Cost of Insurance Working Group - Report on the Cost of Motor Insurance, January 2017, will be debated in the evening slot.
The proposed arrangements for this week’s business are as follows. In relation to today’s business, there are two proposals. It is proposed that:
(1) motion re Parliamentary Question rota change and motion re report of services by the Defence Forces with the United Nations in 2015, referral to committee, shall be taken without debate; and
(2) National Famine Commemoration Day Bill 2017 will conclude within 90 minutes; that the speeches confined to a Government proposer and the main spokespersons for parties or groups, or a Member nominated in their stead shall be ten minutes each; that there shall be a ten-minute response from the Government proposer; and that all Members may share time.
In relation to Wednesday’s business, it is proposed that the Dáil shall sit at 9.30 a.m. for statements on the recent US Executive Order on Immigration, which shall be brought to a conclusion after two hours and 30 minutes; the statement of a Minister or Minister of State and the main spokespersons for parties or groups, or a Member nominated in their stead shall be 15 minutes each; a second round of 30 minutes in total for members of the Government, Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin to be divided proportionally on a 40-40-20 basis, respectively; all Members may share time and if the item concludes before 12 noon, the House shall suspend until 12 noon and Leaders’ Questions shall commence at 12 noon.
In relation to Thursday’s business, there are two proposals. It is proposed that:
(1) motion re proposed approval by Dáil Éireann of draft Commission of Investigation (Certain matters relating to two disclosures made by members of An Garda Síochána under the Protected Disclosures Act 2014) Order 2017 shall be brought to a conclusion after 85 minutes; the speech of a Minister or Minister of State and the main spokespersons for parties or groups, or a Member nominated in their stead be ten minutes each with a five-minute response from a Minister or Minister of State and any division demanded thereon shall be taken immediately; and
(2) report on the Rising Costs of Motor Insurance - Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach, shall be debated with the Cost of Insurance Working Group - Report on the Cost of Motor Insurance, January 2017 - Department of Finance.
There are three proposals to put to the House today. Is the first proposal, for dealing with today's business, agreed to?
Not agreed. No way.
I understand that the Business Committee is due to meet at 4 o'clock. The entire nation has been convulsed by an issue of major public concern. During Leaders' Questions I asked the Taoiseach if he would confirm that Ministers would come before the House to answer questions about their stewardship on this issue and be accountable to the House on the specifics of this issue. I think that should happen. The most important thing the Oireachtas can do to respond to this issue is to try to get to the truth. I understand that people will agree to a tribunal inquiry. Motions of confidence would not get that this week, but we can agree to a tribunal of inquiry. However, that does not mean that Ministers cannot come before the House to answer questions. To be fair, the McCabes issued a statement last evening with six straight questions in it. Answers to those questions do not require a tribunal of inquiry. It is no basis for people to run to the hills and seek protection and cover over very basic things that can be explained and on which Ministers can answer questions.
There was a time in this House when Private Notice Questions were de rigueur and the norm in situations like this, involving matters of great public concern. In recent years, including the last Dáil, that was not so much the case. I put it to the Taoiseach that, given the enormity of this issue, Ministers should come before the House. The Dáil is relevant in responding to it and acts in the public interest in endeavouring to get answers to the one major issue that has convulsed the nation over the last week or so. Our overriding consideration should be to get answers not just for the McCabe family but also for the administration of justice and the administration of Tusla.
Apart from all the other issues, how Tusla dealt with this is shocking when one reads the file. It beggars belief that any State agency could allow something like this to happen. There is a lack of checks and balances. With all of what the Taoiseach said about reforms and modernisation, this is as basic as it gets. It is quite shocking how poor it is.
We cannot have the debate now. The Deputy has made the point.
On Tusla and the HSE, there are questions that need to be answered and which can be answered by Ministers. There is nothing to worry about in coming before the Dáil. It could enlighten debate, give more coherence to the arguments and take away a lot of the hype that surrounds this.
The Order of Business is completely unacceptable. While the issue of the smear campaign against Maurice McCabe can be dealt with by a public commission of investigation, that is not the only issue at stake here. There are questions which need to be answered in terms of the Taoiseach's management and the management by Ministers of the Government. At the very least, the Tánaiste, the Taoiseach and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Katherine Zappone, must come before the House to make statements clarifying direct contradictions in accounts about who knew about the Tusla reports, when they knew, what they decided to do or not do about those things or whether to include them in terms of reference. All of those things need to be addressed by the Taoiseach. The Government must address why it refuses to suspend the Commissioner or to ask her to step aside, without prejudice, pending the outcome of an investigation when that is normal practice for somebody against whom such allegations are made.
There was supposed to be a Business Committee meeting at 1 p.m. which was requested by a number of parties. The Government collapsed that meeting to discuss this issue. On the insistence of ourselves and others, a meeting took place at 1.30 p.m. but the Government came in and no discussions happened. It came in to say the meeting had been put off until 4 p.m. It is unacceptable to have any delay for people to concoct new stories. We want direct, factual accounts and statements from the various people.
Fianna Fáil did not speak up against the move to delay that Business Committee discussion. We need an answer about statements today, not tomorrow or Thursday, from the relevant Ministers and, for that matter, from those who have made statements on this on the Opposition benches so that the public gets truth and clarity.
For the record, the Government did not collapse the Business Committee meeting. The Government made no proposal in respect of the Business Committee meeting. I did because the Government Chief Whip was not available as she was attending a Cabinet meeting. I felt, therefore, that the meeting, in order to be fruitful, needed to have all the players present.
Which was reasonable.
We still need a debate
The public would find it bizarre in light of the events of the last number of days if we voted through the Order of Business agreed last Thursday at the Business Committee. In advance of any discussion of the terms of reference of, as now seems to be the consensus, a tribunal of inquiry, the issues put on the table by the McCabe family in the six questions should be addressed by the relevant Ministers in so far as they can be addressed. Most of us have tabled Private Notice Questions but it would probably be better if the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs would make short statements on the unfortunate but clear contradictions in their individual statements over the last number of days. If there is an explanation, let us hear it and move on then on the basis of clear knowledge. It cannot be the case that contradictory statements are left standing.
Last week, the terms of reference of a commission of inquiry into these very important issues were not discussed in advance with the Opposition parties. Certainly, they were not discussed with my party.
In fairness to the Tánaiste, she did accept the proposition of taking amendments during the course of the debate and we deferred that.
In respect of what will be a much more extensive body of work of a tribunal of inquiry - I understand that the Fianna Fáil Party has already submitted draft terms of reference - in advance of publishing any terms of reference, I ask that there be proper discussion among the parties here. We are all anxious to avoid a multi-annual inquiry. We need to ensure that terms are comprehensive and where there are interacting issues that need to be dealt with together or in tandem before we can get an accurate picture of the truth that these things would be done.
We are all working from the basis of knowledge we have on ensuring that the terms of reference are comprehensive. I ask that the Taoiseach cause a meeting to take place where we could have a proper and full discussion on these matters.
If the Taoiseach gave one fig about being accountable to the Dáil, it should not have taken Members of the Opposition to rise here and ask for a special debate on these matters for things to happen. There are totally contradictory statements from him, other Ministers and Government representatives on all of the pertinent points that passed us last week. We also have the six questions from Maurice and Lorraine McCabe.
I am still waiting for an answer to the question I put to the Taoiseach a number of times today. The Taoiseach has agreed, in principle, to a public inquiry, but we need to get sight of the draft terms of reference. Last week, the Minister for Justice and Equality failed to meet the Sinn Féin justice spokesperson, Deputy Jonathan O'Brien, despite him asking, on a number of occasions, to meet her. There is an e-mail on that if the Taoiseach is looking for a paper trail.
Will the Taoiseach meet with all of the leaders to thrash out the terms of reference? Will he give a very clear commitment now that he will not proceed unless Maurice McCabe is satisfied with the terms of reference that are going forward?
I want to concur with what was said at the meeting. We could not make a decision because the Cabinet meeting had not finished. I suggested that we postpone until 4 p.m. This matter is extremely serious, as we all know. The last thing I want to see is another tribunal that drags on, makes fat cats fatter and gets us nowhere. All of the groups here should be represented at an all-party group to try to formulate terms and conditions. The Taoiseach, Tánaiste and the Minister, Deputy Zappone, should come in here and make brief statements, and then take questions and answers from people across the floor. That is very necessary.
I do not think anyone I met at the Business Committee meeting at 1.30 p.m. thought that we were actually going to follow the Order of Business I had the great pleasure of reading out at length. We agreed that we would have to come back at 4 p.m., reorder the business and start the process again. We should be seeking to prioritise statements from Ministers who, as best they can, should provide answers to the six questions raised by Sergeant McCabe. We should also prioritise in any work we do or debates we have the setting of the terms of reference, the means of bringing in outside expertise, ensuring that we cover every base and getting this absolutely right. We should concentrate on that rather than political motions when we meet in an hour's time to set the Order of Business. Everyone agreed at the earlier meeting that was what we would do at 4 p.m. No one believed that this order would survive the full length of the day.
It is important to remind the Taoiseach that he is part of a minority Government and that this is not a matter that can be sorted out behind closed doors between himself and the leader of Fianna Fáil. This is a matter that should be dealt with and agreed by the Business Committee. Apart from a general consensus in respect of the need for a full public inquiry, there are a number of aspects to the proposed inquiry which need to be agreed. In addition, we need short-term responses in respect of the conflicting statements made by Ministers in recent days. There is a demand for replies to questions from the McCabes.
There is also the not insignificant issue of the serious shortcomings that have now been exposed in Tusla and the need for reassurance that our child protection services are fit for purpose now and not at some point at the end of a lengthy period of inquiry. Finally and not least, there is the need to discuss and agree the most appropriate action to be taken by the current Garda Commissioner and also her position. This needs to be agreed in detail on a cross-party basis and is not something that can be readied up between the two main parties. This needs to be dealt with at the Business Committee as soon as possible.
I call the Minister of State at the Department of the Taoiseach, Deputy Regina Doherty.
First, I apologise for the fact that I was not at the meeting at 1.30 p.m. It certainly was not deliberate. I was, as the Ceann Comhairle stated, at Cabinet and there was no intention to collapse anything. Notwithstanding what others have stated, I wish to make a suggestion. Can we agree the Order of Business until 5.17 p.m. today? The House could carry on until we have our meeting at 4 p.m. when we can agree what we want to do from Topical Issues thereafter. I know I may have changes to make to the Order of Business for tomorrow and Thursday arising from the potential establishment of a tribunal. It would mean that we would not go dark. We could carry on with questions to the Taoiseach and perhaps questions to the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Deputy Zappone, until we decide what we are doing.
A Cheann Comhairle-----
Hold on now. Does the Taoiseach wish to comment?
I agree with Deputy Shortall. It is clear that there are shortcomings in Tusla. The Minister, Deputy Zappone, has pointed out that there will be a root and branch analysis of the way it does its business-----
It is out of control.
-----which will have to be directed by HIQA and the Minister for Health. That is an important point. When a case comes to light, it has to be dealt with expeditiously and with a sense of accountability and responsibility. Issues such as this cannot be left lying around indefinitely without being dealt with in terms of what they mean for people. Deputy Boyd Barrett made the point that this could be dealt with by a commission of investigation.
My understanding is that the McCabe family will not participate in a commission of investigation, which is why Government decided that there should be a tribunal of inquiry. I would like to think that we could get this set up this week. Believe me, it will not be an issue of drafting terms of reference behind closed doors. People will have plenty of opportunity to say what they think should be in those terms of reference. This is a major decision but it needs to be got right in the interests of a comprehensive response.
Deputy Adams made the point about the questions. They are interconnected to the tribunal of inquiry. There are certainly elements to those questions that I read that I think can and will be answered. However, when he makes the point about the tribunal of inquiry, I want to make it very clear to Deputy Adams that one cannot show favouritism to any person in the drafting of the terms of reference.
I am not asking the Taoiseach to do that. What are you telling me that for?
If one does, one runs the distinct danger of-----
Answer the question I asked.
One will scupper it.
The Taoiseach is rabbiting on with complete nonsense.
Deputy Adams mentioned the point about the tribunal of inquiry. One cannot show any bias or favouritism towards anyone in setting it up because if one does so, one will scupper the tribunal of inquiry itself.
I do not think that it would unduly influence a judge. What does that suggest? Nonsense.
One has to be very careful in the drafting of the terms of reference. The meetings, the phone calls and the connections that are made here-----
When was the Taoiseach briefed-----
Once this is under way, it must be absolutely without favouritism or bias-----
We get the point.
-----or indeed too much connection with any one party or the other. That is what the tribunal of inquiry legislation means. In the context of drafting terms of reference, the Department of Justice and Equality and the Tánaiste will consult as widely as possible, but we need to get this under way this week. I would like to think that today and tomorrow people will look at what they would consider appropriate terms of reference, be it by the Business Committee or whatever-----
It is not for the Business Committee, it is for the spokespeople.
-----but that it would be conducted under the aegis of the Department of Justice and Equality, which will have to set this up, and that Members will have their views-----
It is not a Business Committee issue.
The spokespeople would probably be best in terms of drafting the terms of reference.
The justice spokespersons. Deputy Howlin agrees.
I would like to think that this could be set up this week, that it would go to the Dáil and Seanad for approval and we could let the tribunal of inquiry commence and do its business.
The Taoiseach did not answer the question on the need for him and his Ministers to make statements.
Deputy Boyd Barrett wishes to make a point of clarification.
The time proposed for the meeting of the Business Committee is only acceptable if the Taoiseach indicates that the Government, at the committee, will be agreeable to have the relevant Ministers make statements and take questions. A debate must then follow and this must happen today. Otherwise, we will not agree to shunt the issue off to a meeting of the Business Committee which will then bury it until the Taoiseach decides he wants it discussed. We need an indication now that the Taoiseach is agreeable to having statements from the relevant Ministers and a debate today.
On a point of order-----
Deputy Pearse Doherty may not raise a point of order.
Only leaders may speak on these matters and Deputy Adams is the Sinn Féin leader.
As I said, if the Taoiseach gave a fig about accountability, we would not have to tear this out of him. He needs to say "Yes", that he will facilitate the type of debate we have asked for and that he will do so today. He should stand up and say that.
The Chief Whip made a valid suggestion to have a meeting at 4 p.m. to decide what to do. Deputies can shout and all the rest of it but that will not solve anything. The important point is that we have agreement from everybody that there should be a tribunal of inquiry. Can we not move ahead now to put in place a structure and terms of reference to allow it to happen?
The question was about statements from Ministers.
In response to the Chief Whip's proposal, there is a basic logic in proceeding with Questions to An Taoiseach and Topical Issues. It would be perverse not to do so and we should deal with those matters. The Business Committee, which orders the House, must meet. The emphasis should be on questions. The Ministers should come to the House and answer questions about this issue. I take Sinn Féin's point with a grain of salt because it wanted a motion of confidence and did not want any questions about any inquiry this week. If its motion had passed, it would have meant we would not have an inquiry or questions this week.
We still want to have a motion of confidence.
We have no confidence in Deputy Micheál Martin.
We all want answers.
We first want an answer to our question on statements.
That is what I want. The Government will attend the Business Committee meeting at 4 p.m. and that will have to happen.
We need the Taoiseach to answer the question.
We should continue until 5 p.m.
On behalf of the Rural Independent Group, I agree with the proposal to proceed with Questions to An Taoiseach and Topical Issues. We will have a meeting at 4 p.m., after which we will come back with the new order. If the so-called tribunal of inquiry is set up, when will it end? It cannot go on for ever.
Nobody will object to the Business Committee meeting at 4 p.m. However, as the Taoiseach is present, I ask him to indicate that he and the two relevant Ministers will make themselves available to make statements and take questions later today. This is a simple solution which would, I believe, satisfy the House.
It is a wink and nod.
We could agree to that.
"Yes" is the answer.
We did not hear the Taoiseach's answer.
On having short statements and a number of questions, if the Business Committee makes that recommendation, I will be very happy to go along with it.
We have four minutes remaining for questions on promised legislation.
Prior to Christmas, there was significant concern and debate on the Public Health (Alcohol) Bill. Following disagreements in the Seanad and Fine Gael Parliamentary Party, the Bill was essentially withdrawn. Will the Taoiseach indicate when it will be brought back for discussion, debate and passage through the House?
The Minister of State at the Department of Health, Deputy Corcoran Kennedy, is dealing with the Bill. I believe she intends to reintroduce it in the House quickly. It was in the Seanad and I will have to confirm to the Deputy whether she wants to continue with it from the point it reached there. The Minister of State did a considerable amount of work on it over the Christmas period and I believe it is her intention to move on with it very quickly. I will confirm that for the Deputy later.
I raise again with the Taoiseach the very grave threat that Brexit poses to the Good Friday Agreement. Last week, in a debate in the British Parliament on the Brexit Bill, the British Government, the Conservative Party, the Democratic Unionist Party, the Ulster Unionist Party and the United Kingdom Independence Party all voted down an amendment which would have blocked any changes to the Good Friday Agreement. This is clearly in breach of the assurances given by Prime Minister Theresa May to the Taoiseach. I understand that the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade will today meet the Secretary of State, James Brokenshire, who voted against protecting the Good Friday Agreement. I ask the Taoiseach to have his Minister tell the British representative that this is totally unacceptable to the Government. The Taoiseach should also revise his narrative on this issue and start fully and wholeheartedly protecting the integrity of the Agreement.
I note the vote in the House of Commons and that the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Deputy Flanagan, is meeting the Secretary of State, James Brokenshire. I assure Deputy Adams that I made it perfectly clear to the British Prime Minister when I spoke to her originally and more recently in Dublin that the Good Friday Agreement is absolutely central and sacrosanct, as are the votes of the people, North and South. This issue will be a clear priority for us in all of this. We want to see the Good Friday Agreement continue and its successor agreements implemented in full. This is an issue on which we will negotiate hard from a European perspective to see that it continues as a central issue in the negotiations when they commence.
Last week, I raised an issue that is causing real concern among many workers and employers, namely, the threat posed to defined pension schemes. As I indicated, three Private Members' Bills have been drafted by the Opposition, one each from Fianna Fáil, Sinn Féin and the Labour Party. It is my understanding that the spokespersons of the three parties will meet this week to discuss a consolidated Bill. If the Opposition reaches a consensus, will the Government consider embracing this important issue and encompassing it in the proposed Social Welfare and Pensions Bill which will be due in the coming weeks?
That is a matter to which consideration would certainly be given. If an agreed position is reached among the three Opposition spokespersons, the Minister for Social Protection will need to reflect on that. In the event that they do agree, I suggest they meet the Minister to explain the nature of what it is they wish to have included in the Social Welfare and Pensions Bill.
I propose to raise an issue I have raised many times in recent weeks and comment on the report of the Health Products Regulatory Authority, HPRA, published last Friday. The HPRA report is flawed and does not go nearly far enough. Will the Taoiseach indicate when the Bill we introduced on 1 December 2016 will come before the Select Committee on Health? It should be taken within 12 weeks.
On a serious related matter, Deputy Harty made comments over the weekend which prejudiced the Bill proposed by People Before Profit. The Deputy stated that the Bill is no longer needed. I have asked him for clarification but he has not provided it. His role as chairperson of the Joint Committee on Health is untenable. He has shown disrespect to me, my party comrades and the people in the Public Gallery on 1 December last. I ask him to comment. I also ask the Taoiseach to provide a precise date for the taking of the Bill in committee.
The Bill mentioned by the Deputy is being considered by the Minister for Health. As the Deputy is aware, it did go through Second Stage unopposed. As I said, it is now being considered by the Minister for Health and he will advise the Deputy of his reflections on the quality and extent of it.
Will it go to committee?